The Strategic Effects of 9/11, Part 1: America & the World Before the Strike

To continue the series, here’s my summary of part 1 of Abu al-Fadl’s study:

  • American strategy experts overlook the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan as the decisive event that ended the Cold War. Instead, they focus on the USSR’s and Eastern Europe’s attraction to Western culture. The myth promulgated by these experts is that soft power defeated the USSR without firing a single bullet. This is the myth of Western values that produce miracles.
  • This myth doesn’t explain the reason for putting nukes in Europe for half a century; the star wars program under Reagan; Brzezinski’s ingenious idea to destroy the USSR from the inside by breathing life into oppressed Islamic peoples; or why Reagan praised Afghan militants as freedom fighters.
  • As one of the preeminent neo-realists in American foreign policy, Stephen Walt, said, the Soviet withdrawal from the arena of conflict in the ’80s left the U.S. in a position of power unequaled since the days of Rome [quotes Walt’s 1999 article “Musclebound: The Limits of U.S. Power”]. But Walt also said that like the previous empires, the U.S. has found it difficult to manage so many local conflicts (Yugoslavia, Palestinian territories, etc).
  • In the ’90s, there was a debate over how to manage the world. Was it to be unipolar, with the U.S. imposing its will on everyone, or multi-polar, with countries ruling according to the logic of consensus, securing the interests of the many at the expense of the few.
  • Clinton faced “challenges of managing destructive chaos” after small fires ignited in what was called the “arc of crisis” and beyond. The Middle East was no longer considered the sole source of tension and unrest. The former USSR and Yugoslavia were also volatile.
  • China adopted a unique path by retaining communism but allying with the U.S. against the USSR. Rather than fighting the U.S., China flooded U.S. markets with cheap goods. Now it is one of America’s chief financiers.
  • Europeans moved toward greater political and economic integration, which also challenged the U.S. But the explosion in Yugoslavia reminded the European Union of its fragility.
  • Since the fall of the USSR, the Arab world has been totally dependent on the U.S. Consequently, Israel is now in a better position to cut deals with its neighbors.
  • After the descent of Afghanistan into chaos following the Soviet withdrawal, the U.S. and regional governments agreed to channel the Afghan Arabs toward more desirable arenas, like Bosnia, Chechnya, Tajikistan, and other countries that were experiencing difficulties in transitioning from one era to another; the one exception is Palestine, which is the international and Arab red line. In other words, the Afghan theater was not enough to annihilate the rebels fighting against regimes in the Arab and Islamic world [so they were sent to die elsewhere].
  • As for the Jihadi Movement that `Abd Allah `Azzam built in Afghanistan, it now revolves around a new star, Bin Laden. In 1996, he returned to Afghanistan and declared jihad on Americans.
  • His announcement came after a failed experiment in Sudan and that country’s collapse in the international arena; the destruction of the Salvation Front in Algeria because it was infiltrated; the Egyptian Islamic Jihad’s suspension of violence in Egypt; and the reconsiderations [i.e. renunciation of revolutionary violence] by some of the the historical leaders of the Islamic Group in Egypt. At this time, an ingenious idea was conceived: strike the remote enemy so that the near enemy would collapse since the far enemy [the U.S.] supported the near enemies [local regimes].
  • At this troubled time, full of dangers and opportunities, the foundation of the nucleus of jihad was reestablished and a strategic program was put in place for it.
  • U.S. public opinion relaxed considerably after the absence of an external enemy [the Soviets]. Not even Bush Sr. could convince people of the need to maintain a high level of spending on the military to deal with problems like North Korea and Yugoslavia. Thus, Clinton won in 1992 on the campaign slogan of “It’s the economy, stupid.”
  • To summarize, Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. used hard power–military power–to coerce the U.S.’s enemies and to frighten the rest. Clinton, on the other hand, believed in soft power, which is the extension of U.S. power through the non-violent mechanisms of globalization. Clinton’s preference for soft power explains his reluctance to get involved in the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992-1995. He withdrew from Somalia after an ambush on U.S. troops in Mogadishu. He resorted to bombing Iraq in Desert Fox; he did the same in Afghanistan and the Sudan in answer for the embassy bombings in 1998. After the Cole bombing in 2000, he did nothing. Finally, Clinton only used air power in 1999 under the banner of NATO to solve the Kosovo crisis.
  • In response to the softness of Clinton, the neocons put forward a study in Sept. 2000 called “Rebuilding America’s Defenses.” The basic idea was that the U.S. should use its unprecedented power to maintain its status as the lone superpower. The document recommended increasing the size of the army; preparing it to handle multiple conventional wars at a single time; modernizing and strengthening the U.S. nuclear arsenal to deal with different possibilities; preventing the spread of nuclear technology; and reviving star wars.
  • When Bush Jr. was narrowly elected, he and the neocons were on the verge of augmenting U.S. soft power with hard power in order to control the world. These were the circumstances before the attacks of 9/11.

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